NFL QB carousel 2021: In the aftermath of the blockbuster Matthew Stafford–Jared Goff trade and Carson Wentz moving from Philadelphia to Indianapolis, there figures to be a ton more movement on the NFL quarterback carousel during the 2021 offseason.
Between Deshaun Watson‘s trade request, a trove of top-flight prospects available in the 2021 NFL Draft and several star players who could be looking for different places to play this coming year, be on the lookout for some truly wild transactions in the coming months.
So, which signal-callers are most likely to be on the move, and where do they best fit? We’ll make predictions for all of them, and keep you updated with new analysis once any of these players land somewhere.
NFL QB carousel 2021: A blockbuster Deshaun Watson trade?
Deshaun Watson is ideal fit for New York Jets
A big-market team and a world-class talent, with a seemingly competent general manager in Joe Douglas and a fiery new head coach in Robert Saleh in place? Everything is lining up for New York to welcome its newest Broadway star in Watson to the fold.
Watson clearly wants out from the Texans organization, and Houston shouldn’t be stubborn about this. The team is in the midst of a massive rebuild as it is, and could get an absolute king’s ransom in exchange for its phenomenal field general.
While trading a quarterback of Watson’s caliber certainly isn’t ideal, the Jets are as good of a trade partner as there is for new Texans GM Nick Caserio. They have the second overall pick, which means, after the Jacksonville Jaguars make their presumed selection of Trevor Lawrence, Houston would have its choice of which QB prospect to build around on a cheap rookie contract.
Read More: 5 most realistic Deshaun Watson trade offers
The Texans haven’t exactly been the paragon of savvy personnel moves, as former coach/GM hybrid Bill O’Brien made his share of baffling moves before being fired. If Caserio learned anything from Bill Belichick as a longtime personnel man in New England, he’d probably understand the value Watson could yield in a trade.
As for New York’s side of things, this is an unprecedented opportunity. Saleh proved in 2020 that he could elevate the talent of his players by helping the San Francisco 49ers’ defense rank among the NFL’s best in spite of numerous injuries.
Landing Watson would be the splash move to end all splash moves, yet it’d actually make sense for the Jets to do it. They have the cap room to pay him, and to bolster all other areas of the roster. Parting ways with some draft picks that aren’t guaranteed to hit anyway seems like a small price to pay for the upside and a new face of the franchise.
Zach Wilson gives Houston Texans a fresh start
Let’s say the worst-case scenario happens and Deshaun Watson doesn’t show up for the 2021 season, opting to sit out instead until he’s traded.
Who does that leave to lead Houston’s offense? No current NFL quarterback in their right mind would want to play for the Texans right now with the whole Watson fiasco happening.
Say it doesn’t work out in the team’s favor and Watson winds up being dealt any time after the draft anyway as the front office tries to win the power struggle.
If this is how things unfold, that means the Texans are hoping a better quarterback is there in the 2022 draft or on the open market. Hope isn’t a great strategy.
Wilson has downright special arm talent, and possesses the type of upside Houston could really sell its fanbase on amid a turbulent period of uncertainty. The BYU star doesn’t know anything different in terms of what to expect from the NFL, and new coach David Culley could help create an environment that makes a good impression on Wilson.
Landing a gifted passer like Wilson at the top of the draft also frees up the Texans’ personnel department to address the other myriad holes on the roster.
NFL QB carousel 2021: Best destinations for other top prospects
Justin Fields learns under Teddy Bridgewater with Carolina Panthers
With the NFC South rival Atlanta Falcons passing on the chance to draft Matt Ryan‘s eventual successor, Carolina capitalizes on the circumstances and snags Ohio State star Justin Fields as a potential Year 1 starter.
Fields does have a long way to go in terms of being pro-ready, yet he’d be learning from a model mentor in Teddy Bridgewater, whose football IQ is superior to his physical skill set as a passer.
The good news for Carolina is that Bridgewater can competently run coordinator Joe Brady’s offense while Fields waits in the wings to take over in 2022 at the latest. As long as the defense takes a step forward this coming season, the Panthers’ offense should be better by default and not put in as many compromising positions.
Let’s see, too, how Bridgewater or Fields does with a full, healthy year from superstar tailback Christian McCaffrey, who played just three games last year.
Brady is widely regarded as the next great young offensive genius in the NFL, and without tons of pressure to play right away, Fields won’t be pressed into duty until he’s ready. Of course, his time could come sooner than expected with a strong training camp, throwing to the likes of McCaffrey and the Panthers’ low-key excellent receiver duo of Robby Anderson and DJ Moore.
Trey Lance presents a game-changing dual-threat to Matt Nagy, Chicago Bears
You might be thinking to yourself, “Wait, why wouldn’t the San Francisco 49ers pick up Trey Lance if he’s there at 12th overall?” Rest assured, there’s a reason for this.
It’s plain as day the Bears are a quarterback away from being a legitimate contender in the NFC. While the same can be said for most teams — heck, wouldn’t just about anyone be good with Patrick Mahomes? — it’s especially true in the Windy City, as Chicago’s Khalil Mack-led defense is stocked to win a Super Bowl.
Lance is far from a sure thing, but absent any other great options with the No. 20 overall pick, general manager Ryan Pace should pull the trigger and select the North Dakota State standout if he’s there.
Head coach Matt Nagy and Pace are on the hot seat and were frankly lucky to be retained for 2021. Nagy has a reputation as a creative play designer and will be working with a prospect in Lance who hails from a Bison offense that incorporates lots of pro-style concepts, but also took advantage of his unique running ability to the tune of 1,100 yards rushing in 2019.
In addition to that impressive running total from two seasons ago, Lance threw 28 touchdowns to zero interceptions and led North Dakota State to a national championship. With his arm talent and athleticism at 6-foot-4 and 226 pounds, it’d be cringe-worthy to see Chicago roll with Mitch Trubisky, Nick Foles or another uninspiring signal-caller next season.
At least if Pace and Nagy are going to lose their jobs, they might as well go down swinging and try to inject some life into their offense with a high-upside QB in Lance — even if it means trading up to get him.
Mac Jones creates competition with Drew Lock on Denver Broncos
Drew Lock hasn’t exactly garnered a ton of support as the Broncos’ quarterback of the future, and there are legitimate arguments to be made that he’s not the answer. Whether it’s scattershot accuracy or questionable decision-making, Lock has his fair share of detractors.
Instead of investing the ninth overall pick in the draft as his chief competition, there’s a middle road Denver can take. Given how we’re projecting the rest of the draft to play out, there’s a fair chance Mac Jones could fall out of the first round.
Evaluating Jones is difficult. He played at Alabama surrounded by future first-round picks at wide receiver en route to a national championship this season in DeVonta Smith and Jaylen Waddle.
What’s also fun is that former Crimson Tide wideout Jerry Jeudy was a first-round pick of the Broncos in 2020. Jeudy struggled as a rookie under play-caller Pat Shurmur, but another year in the offense alongside draft classmate KJ Hamler, gifted tight end Noah Fant and Lock should lead to a big leap in Jeudy’s sophomore campaign.
Lock must know he hasn’t done enough to be an unquestioned starter for next season. Competition may well bring out the best in him. While he has a superior arm to Jones, he’s not shown the same steady accuracy and touch to all levels of the field that the rising rookie has.
In the event that Lock struggles with the finer points of playing quarterback, Jones is exactly the type of savvy distributor who could ball out in Denver’s offense. Beyond Jeudy, Hamler and Fant, there’s also stud receiver Courtland Sutton returning from injury and an excellent tailback in Melvin Gordon opposing defenses must account for.
The circumstances with the Broncos may be just what the franchise needs to get more production out of the quarterback spot. Whether Lock or Jones were to start moving forward, the AFC West features Mahomes, Justin Herbert and Derek Carr, all of whom are head and shoulders above where Denver is at the all-important position right now.
NFL QB carousel 2021: Familiar ties drive veteran movement
Cam Newton reunites with Ron Rivera on Washington Football Team
Not only would Cam Newton return to a coach who oversaw his NFL MVP season and went with him to a Super Bowl, but Rivera also retained former Carolina quarterbacks Scott Turner on his Washington staff as offensive coordinator.
Having innate knowledge of the Football Team’s system would give Newton a massive leg up that he didn’t have with the New England Patriots this past season. Despite signing later than most free agents would and learning a new offense that had been quarterbacked by Tom Brady for the prior two decades, Newton still guided a shorthanded Patriots team to a 7-8 record in 15 starts.
Newton would benefit from Washington’s excellent defense, which played a huge role in the Football Team winning the NFC East in 2020. The rushing attack led by Antonio Gibson is also viable, and the tandem of Gibson and J.D. McKissic provide Washington with multiple pass-catchers out of the backfield.
Getting a bargain like Newton — who has pretty fair odds to have success and is certainly more physically gifted than any of the Football Team’s other incumbent options — would allow the Football Team to address other needs via the draft and free agency. They could even add a first-round receiver to pair with Terry McLaurin.
Jimmy Garoppolo goes back to New England Patriots
Once traded from New England to San Francisco for a second-round pick, all the buzz out of the Bay Area suggests Jimmy Garoppolo could be playing elsewhere in 2021 and beyond.
It’s not so much that Garoppolo is a bad player as it is that he’s failed to stay healthy. The 49ers only got three starts out of Garoppolo in 2018 before he tore his ACL, and he missed 10 games this past season as the team fell short of the playoffs a year after reaching the Super Bowl.
Garoppolo came within one quarter of lifting the Lombardi Trophy and joining the greats of the Niners franchise. He’d be mentioned in the same conversations with Joe Montana and Steve Young, and probably would’ve been a Super Bowl MVP.
How quickly things can change, and how fine the line is in the NFL. Since the Patriots and San Francisco traded with each other before, what’s to stop them from doing so again if the Niners have a strong alternative to Garoppolo they really believe in?
You can bet New England coach Bill Belichick and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels would love to have someone like Garoppolo who understands their system, isn’t a massive salary cap hit, boasts a 24-8 regular-season starting record and grasps the Patriot Way culture.
This reunion makes too much sense not to happen
Marcus Mariota revives career with San Francisco 49ers
OK, once Garoppolo is off the books, the 49ers would have $32 million in cap room, so an argument could be made for Carson Wentz here.
Then again, San Francisco has a whopping 43 pending free agents to attend to, and will need either a veteran bargain or a rookie draft pick to maximize its chances of retaining key players such as elite left tackle Trent Williams.
Who better fits this description than Marcus Mariota? In limited action for the Raiders this past season, he looked exceptional and showed elite acceleration as a ball-carrier along with beautiful touch on downfield throws.
Niners coach Kyle Shanahan builds his offense around play-action passing and bootlegs, which is where Mariota would thrive. Having so many different play-callers during his time in Tennessee stunted the 27-year-old’s development as a pro. He’s been able to tackle Jon Gruden’s system very well, and seems destined for at least a chance at another starting gig.
Remember, Mariota was replaced by Ryan Tannehill, who’s led the Titans to the playoffs the past two seasons. It’s not like he was benched for a scrub. Mariota could be in for a similar resurgence to what Tannehill experienced if he lands with the right team.
Gruden once gave Shanahan his first coaching opportunity in the NFL, and Shanahan credits Gruden with giving him tons of great ideas for offensive concepts. Thus, there’s bound to be plenty of continuity if Mariota were to adapt to San Francisco’s scheme.
This may not be an obvious match, but if the 49ers are indeed looking to upgrade with a more athletic, talented quarterback, Mariota may be the ideal Garoppolo replacement.